More than 200,000 people under the age of 18 got married over a 15 year period in the United States.
This has happened because individual state laws have too many provisions that allow child marriages to take place, according to a new report from violence victims’ charity the Tahirih Justice Center (TJC). Half of all states do not have a minimum age for people get married under certain circumstances while only three (New York, Texas and Virginia) limit the institution to legal adults.
In eight states and in Washington DC, clerks can approve marriages for people under 18 and just 17 states require a child’s best interests to be considered before allowing them to proceed. Nine states also have statues that explicitly allow a reduction of the required marriage age if the potential bride is pregnant.
The charity claims that child marriage has been linked to domestic and sexual violence, human trafficking, HIV infection and child mortality. Those who marry underage are also more likely to drop out of their education and experience poverty.
Report author Jeanne Smoot is Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy at Tahirih. She explained that many people “are surprised to know that child marriage is a problem right here in the United States”. However, it was important that the states “move from awareness to action” on this issue.
“Most of the children who are married in the US are girls. Their full and healthy development is compromised, and their future opportunities are curtailed.”
In her report, Smoot concludes that the best solution is for each state to impose a minimum marriage age of 18 without exception. This was “not only about child protection [but was also] about girls’ rights and empowerment” she said.
Read Falling Through the Cracks: How Laws Allow Child Marriage to Happen in Today’s America online here.